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Sunday, April 9, 2006

Governor nixes Okinawa base relocation plan

Staff writer

Despite an agreement struck the previous day between the city of Nago and the central government on a replacement for a U.S. Marine base, Okinawa Gov. Keiichi Inamine remained opposed to the plan Saturday, saying the prefecture will stick to a plan to build the air base farther offshore.

The governor, whose approval is required before the central government can start filling in the sea to build a substitute for the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, expressed his opposition during a meeting with Defense Agency chief Fukushiro Nukaga.

"The prefecture has its own stance, and we will keep maintaining it," Inamine told reporters after the meeting at the Defense Agency.

As part of an ongoing realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan, the central government is now pushing to relocate the Futenma air base in central Okinawa to an area covering part of Cape Henoko in Nago and adjacent waters.

Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro agreed Friday to accept the central government's proposal as Nukaga announced a plan to build two runways at the facility so U.S. aircraft would not fly over nearby residential areas.

Without the agreement of the governor, however, the central government cannot reclaim the water areas. Given the impasse, central government officials once floated an idea to enact a law to transfer the governor's authority in this regard to the central government.

But Defense Agency chief Nukaga only said Saturday that he and Inamine agreed to keep talking.

"We're still continuing talks," Nukaga said when asked by reporters if the central government can carry out Friday's relocation plan without the governor's consent.

"(Inamine) shares our view that the Japan-U.S. security treaty is necessary. I think we can (settle the matter) through discussions," Nukaga said.

Inamine said he appreciates the central government's efforts in the ongoing Japan-U.S talks to reduce the presence of U.S. military forces in Okinawa, including the proposed transfer of 8,000 marines to Guam.

"Therefore, we have decided to continue talks" with the central government, he said.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government had agreed to an earlier plan to build the alternative airport far off the coast of Cape Henoko on the condition that the new airport facility would offer joint use for civilian airlines and would be closed within 15 years after it opens.

The central government abandoned that plan and agreed with the U.S. in October on building closer to the coast. Preparatory work for the offshore project was being blocked by environmental activists.

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The Japan Times

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